240m pilgrims take holy bath as Kumbh Mela ends

A new record was set in India when some 240 million pilgrims took holy dip during the seven-week Kumbh Mela regarded as the largest religious gathering on earth, officials said on the final day of the festival in Prayagraj on Monday.

The previous record was set in 2013 at the same venue with 120 million pilgrims taking holy bath at the confluence of three holy rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati.

This year’s Kumbh Mela also secured place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest crowd management, sanitation drive and painting exercise of public sites.

The festival, which began on January 14, ended with the sixth and final ‘shahi snan’ or royal bath on the auspicious day of Maha Shivratri, the Hindu festival celebrated annually in honour of Lord Shiva. As many as 10 million pilgrims took holy bath on Monday.

Among the pilgrims who marched towards the Triveni Sangam (three-river confluence) from the day the festival started were large groups of naked seers with holy ash smeared all over their body.

Hindus believe the holy dip will absolve them of all sins and free them from the cycle of rebirth.

The administration had made elaborate arrangements to accommodate millions of pilgrims converging at Prayagraj by setting up thousands of tents.

Nine railways stations were upgraded and a new airport terminal was opened ahead of the festival. Some 250 km roads were laid and 22 pontoon bridges built.

The Kumbh is mentioned some 2,000 years ago by Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang who visited India during the reign on King Harshvardhana.

Based on the alignment of the stars, the time and place of celebrating Kumbh is determined in one of the four river-sites, Haridwar, Prayagraj, Nasik or Ujjain.

While Ardh Kumbh is held every six years, the Maha Kumbh occurs once in 12 years. The seven-week event which ended on Monday at Prayagraj was an Ardh Kumbh.